The Test of Presidential Leadership


With the U.S. presidential race heating up, and as we head toward the first of the crowded Republican primary debates, how will you assess which candidate would restore trust and confidence in American leadership?

This is especially important given the challenges America presently faces at home and abroad. Below are three factors to consider. (These factors are applicable to selecting the leader of an organization too.)

1. Credibility

A leader needs to demonstrate competence to be credible.  To determine this, we must ask several questions:

•         Has this candidate shown good judgment in what he or she has previously said and done?

•         Does this candidate demonstrate that he or she has the expertise regarding the subject matter of both domestic and foreign affairs?

•         Does this candidate have successful experience managing a senior leadership team that is responsible for managing a complex governmental organization?

2. Motives

Great leaders care about who they are (i.e. their character) and they want to accomplish significant ends. Poor leaders obsess about how they are perceived (i.e. their reputation) and they are focused on wanting to be great in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.  To determine personal interest versus self-interest, we must ask these questions:

•         Has this candidate demonstrated a genuine desire to serve others, or has he or she focused solely on self-interest?

•         Does this candidate want to get the job done well for the sake of America, or is he or she focused on perception and personal popularity?

•         Does this candidate have the courage of his or her own convictions, or is he or she leading according to the results of opinions polls?

3. Connection

Great leaders have developed emotional and social intelligence that enables them to connect with people, and they pursue these connections because they care and are interested in others. In addition, they have strong positive relationships with family and friends that help keep them balanced and emotionally healthy.  Poor leaders, on the other hand, tend to care about highly visible results that make them look good but are less interested in helping people and being in relationships.  This makes them vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, and addiction.  To determine a leader’s ability to connect with people, consider these questions:

•         Has this candidate demonstrated an ability to successfully connect with people in a way that inspires committed, loyal followers?

•         Has this candidate proven him or herself to be sufficiently consistent and reliable in sustaining connection with the people he or she leads?

•         Does this candidate have strong relationships with family and friends to help support him or her in a stressful, high visibility leadership environment?

Consider how history may have been altered had Great Britain elected Winston Churchill prime minister earlier rather than waiting until after Adolf Hitler led the Germans to invade Poland. This should motivate us to seriously study and carefully consider the candidates before we make a decision on whom to select as our next president.

We need a president who has credibility, who has demonstrated the right motives, and who connects with people so they want to follow him or her. Selecting the right candidate will have considerable consequences for America’s future and for the world’s.

Adapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work

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